New National Mental Health Crisis Line Gets Millions of Calls and Texts in its First Year

Aug 7, 2023 | Uncategorized

This article includes the topic of suicide.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call, text, or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Last July, the cumbersome 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline became 988. The easy-to-remember lifeline was created to help people dealing with issues such as depression, substance misuse, and suicidal ideation get immediate help and be guided to additional resources. At the one-year mark, there’s some success to report: Texts to the lifeline increased dramatically and average wait times plummeted from 2 minutes 39 seconds to 41 seconds.

“Since [its] launch in July 2022 through May 2023 (the latest available data), 988 has received almost 5 million contacts, of which nearly 1 million are from the Veteran’s Crisis Line—a part of 988—with the rest consisting of 2.6 million calls, over 740,000 chats, and more than 600,000 texts,” reported Heather Saunders for KFF. “Comparing the most recent Lifeline performance data available from May 2023 to a year prior, the combined number of calls, texts, and chats increased by 33 percent. The number of texts increased more than eight-fold over the same period but remain a small share of overall outreach.” 

“Federal statistics show more than 14 million adults in the US had a serious mental illness in 2021, and 12.3 million seriously considered suicide,” reported Ryan Levi and Dan Gorenstein on NPR’s weekend edition in July. “In particular, the rates of suicide and mental illness among young people are a growing concern among mental health advocates and policymakers.”

Staffing shortages have been such a concern that federal officials actually delayed an extensive media campaign to promote the Lifeline. Nearly all states still report open positions, but many local and national 988 leaders say raising awareness has now become their top priority—with good reason. A survey released by the Pew Charitable Trusts in May showed that most Americans remain unaware of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This makes the five million contacts in less than a year even more concerning. 

More staff and better awareness are badly needed. Study after study has shown that America’s young people are in crisis, facing unprecedented mental health challenges that are burdening teen girls in particular. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that almost 60 percent of US girls reported persistent sadness and hopelessness. Rates are up in boys, too, but fewer are affected. The proportion of teen girls visiting emergency rooms in mental health crisis rose 22 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic’s second year, reported Ellen Barry in The New York Times

The NPR report presented the example of a 24-year-old woman who texted 988 when she was in the middle of a dissociative episode that left her unable to speak. “I just remember shaking and being on the floor and not knowing how to get my soul back to my body,” she told NPR. “All I could feel was fear.” Over the course of an hour, a counselor helped her reconnect with her senses in part by encouraging her to take concrete steps like making a cup of hot chocolate and running her hands under warm and cold water.

“America’s teen girls are engulfed in a growing wave of sadness, violence, and trauma,” the CDC warned. “Across almost all measures of substance use, experiences of violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, female students are faring more poorly than male students. These differences, and the rates at which female students are reporting such negative experiences, are stark.”

As we reported on this blog, the homicide rate for older American teenagers rose to its highest point in nearly 25 years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the suicide rate for adults in their early 20s was the worst in more than 50 years. The CDC data brief reported homicide and suicide rates among 10-to-24-year-olds from 2001 to 2021.

“Every day brings more evidence that our nation’s youth are facing a mental health crisis: rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among young people are on the rise, and so are adolescent deaths from drug poisoning,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the Director of National Drug Control Policy Rahul Gupta recently wrote in an op-ed on USA Today

Without appropriate support, many teenagers who struggle with mental health issues will attempt to alleviate their emotional pain by misusing psychoactive substances such as cannabis (marijuana), alcohol, opioids, and other depressants, as well as stimulants such as cocaine. 

Avanti Behavioral Health recently launched an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for clients between the ages of 13 and 18 in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, holistic, family-centered, and trauma-informed care for teens with substance use issues

If your teen needs help with a substance use disorder, do not delay seeking treatment. If your teen is experiencing an acute crisis, call 988. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030.

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